The UK has few better friends than Canada. From our longstanding historical and military ties to our modern trading and diplomatic relationship, our nations have long worked together on the world stage to tackle the most pressing challenges facing the world.
There are few, if any, more pressing challenges than climate change and biodiversity loss - and the UK and Canada, as major emitters, advocates for the environment, and global players, have a duty to tackle it.
And so last month, we were delighted to participate in the Conservative Environment Network delegation to Canada to meet our counterparts and learn more about how they approach environmental issues. Our visit took us to the conservative heartland of Alberta, the economic engine of the Canadian economy thanks to its plentiful fossil fuel supplies, and then to the capital city, Ottawa.
Albertans are understandably proud of their history with the oil and gas industry and the thousands of jobs it still supports. While there is a widespread acceptance of the need to reach net zero by 2050, they point to the continuing, albeit declining, global demand for oil and gas for many decades. They confidently assert that the last barrel of oil sold in the world should be from Alberta rather than Venezuela or Saudi Arabia.
In many respects, this is not an unreasonable argument. If the world needs oil and gas, as it surely will for some time yet, better to get it from a friendly nation like Canada, a country with a plan to reach net zero and strict environmental standards, rather than importing supplies from an unreliable dictatorship with no such commitments.
But it is not sustainable forever, and global demand will shrink quickly with 90 per cent of the world’s economy covered by net zero targets. We have seen from our own North Sea oil and gas industry, which passed peak production over twenty years ago, how important it is to build new clean technologies and industries. It is the only way to create sustainable, long term jobs and make sure that the communities that rely on fossil fuels still have a bright future beyond the sale of that last barrel. The good news for Alberta is that it can embrace being a green technology superpower.
From its critical mineral deposits to its world-leading expertise in carbon capture and storage technology, and from its vast solar resource (with over 300 days of sunshine per year) to its geothermal energy potential, a declining fossil fuel market does not have to spell despair for Canada’s energy heartlands.
Industry is playing a key role in decarbonisation too, with Alberta becoming a hub for clean technology startups. We were delighted to visit Carbon Upcycling in Calgary, which stores carbon in cement during the production process. With the cement industry accounting for around 8% of global CO2 emissions, this is exactly the sort of innovation that we need to scale up and roll out across the world.
In Ottawa, Canada’s federal Conservatives have made their opposition to Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax a key plank of their cost of living agenda. Newly elected opposition leader Pierre Poilievre is arguing that adding to the tax burden for hard-pressed consumers is unreasonable.
At a time when inflation is rising too, there is merit to this argument - a carbon tax can be an effective means of cutting emissions but it is not a must, as we know from the UK. But once again, arguing against a policy is only half the story and the Canadian Conservatives we met recognised their duty to propose a workable climate plan in its place, citing the UK as a positive example. Poilievre is an extremely gifted communicator - if anyone can sell sceptics on the need for a pragmatic and ambitious approach to protecting the environment, he can, and we look forward to continuing to engage with our Canadian friends on this over the coming years.
As we were fortunate enough to see first-hand, Canada is a country in many ways more in touch with the environment than any other. But for all its natural beauty, its emissions are rising. Canadian Conservatives, as the government in waiting, have been reluctant to embrace serious climate action - with their nation’s potential, they don’t need to be.
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